Give Them The Needle
(must subscribe to their paper to view original article)
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Ontario public health officials are currently fighting an outbreak of a
potentially serious yet entirely preventable disease. One hundred and
twenty-one cases of rubella, a virus better known as German measles, have
been confirmed in the province so far, and more are expected. The reason?
Norwich, Ont. -- the site of the outbreak's first reported case -- is home
to a sizable Dutch Reform community, a Christian denomination that opposes
rubella vaccinations on religious grounds. The consequences for public
health have been predictable.
The area population has proven a fertile area for the virus, which causes
only mild illness in children, but presents greater problems for adults.
Most seriously, rubella almost always leads to serious birth defects in
infants whose mothers were infected early in their pregnancies, and it can
also cause miscarriages. Deafness, blindness, cognitive disabilities and
heart defects are all common in babies infected with rubella in the womb.
Although we are usually loath to endorse any added government involvement in
individuals' private lives, the Ontario rubella outbreak represents an
exception: Preventing the spread of serious communicable disease is one area
where coercive measures are mandated. The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella)
vaccine should be mandatory for all Canadians, except those for whom it
would be medically inadvisable.
Such a requirement would impinge on the religious liberties of adherents of
the Dutch Reform church. However, there are other rights to consider --
including, in this instance, the right to be protected from life-altering
Martien Vanderspek, the principal of the Rehoboth Christian School where the
current rash of rubella cases seems to have begun, has promised: "Whatever
happens, they have a place in our community if it is God's will a
handicapped child is born."
That is a noble sentiment, we suppose, but not one the state can rely on in
its own policy-making. Not one more child should be born in Canada afflicted
with rubella, a virus that it is within medicine's power to forestall.